Letter: As a Community, Let’s Find a Responsible Solution For 107 New York Ave

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107 New York Ave Jersey City Development View From Street
107 New York Ave at Ferry Street. Photo via Google/Street View

In response to the neighborhood outcry over the redevelopment proposal for 107 New York Avenue, Diana Vasquez, a long-time Jersey City Heights resident and real estate professional offers a unique perspective that spans both sides of the debate.

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As a Jersey City Heights resident my entire adult life, I have seen the change in the city first hand. My parents migrated to Jersey City from Colombia over 40 years ago and our family made this city home. Jersey City was not a desirable place to live back then, or at least that is what New Yorkers thought. How times have changed.

I never wanted to move out of JC even before it was cool, but I cannot lie and say that I do not love the progress the city has made in the past 5-10 years. In the past, if I wanted to go to a “cool” place I had to go into NYC, now I can just Uber downtown and have an amazing dinner and even dance on a Saturday night.

The reality is that without all the new construction the city would not be what it is now. Real estate is what makes cities thrive, but when does it become too much? As a real estate broker myself, I am caught between being concerned about my community and making a profitable living.

There is a sentiment of resistance between the “old school” residents concerning all the changes the city is facing and the new people coming in. The biggest issues always rotate around construction projects and what they bring — the traffic, the full trains, the rising of rents. Change is not easy.

I grew up around the corner from 107 New York Avenue and since I had been looking at that old building for so long, I decided to reach out to the owner three years ago. He agreed to meet with me and we had a productive meeting. He is a pleasant, elegant man who has owned the building for many years and was ready to do something with it.

After conducting a lot of research, I realized that the development of this project would be very challenging because of the zoning where the building is located and the resistance I knew we would face from the community. I expressed these facts to the owner, but as someone who doesn’t live here or understand The Heights, the findings were ignored.

After speaking to many developers, I found a few that were interested in taking on the challenge of building on this site. We met with them, but none were giving the owner the kind of offer he thought he would receive for the land. However, in the background, there were another 10 brokers calling him on a daily basis with crazy, unrealistic offers from developers.

In the meantime, I brought commercial tenants from NYC, such as food halls and fitness centers to see the property. None of those businesses saw the value in The Heights. They simply didn’t think we had the foot traffic necessary for their success and passed on the location.

This is where it gets tricky. We have an owner that is paying $40,000 a year in taxes on an empty building, commercial tenants that have no interest in renting his building, and developers knocking on his door saying they can build a tower and pay him millions for the land. So what is the owner to do?

107 New York Ave Jersey City Development Letter To Editor
The property occupies the entire block.

It is obvious that the proposed nine-story building is out of place and will not get approved, I can’t even fathom how the developer thought that 18 stories would even be considered, but we need to understand why they proposed that building size. First and foremost, this site is an entire city block (approx. 1/2 acre). So even if it is zoned as R1 (two-family homes), we can all agree this would be a waste of space. The highest and best use, in my opinion, would be a five-story building (with setbacks) to complement the existing building adjacent to it.

107 New York Avenue Jersey City Rendering 3
A rendering of the most recent design by MVMK Architecture.

The second reason the proposed development is so large is because of the cost of the land the developer will have to pay the owner. To be able to justify the inflated price of the land, the developer has to build an exorbitant amount of units to make a profit. The only way he can build fewer units is by paying less for the land.

That being said, both the developer and the landowner need to understand that just because the land can fit a huge tower, that doesn’t mean it belongs there. The traffic alone is already a nightmare. Developers, in general, need to be conscious that their profit cannot disrupt an entire community and landowners need to understand that the developer cannot just build whatever he wants so his land is more valuable.

Community needs are among the subjects that keep arising during these meetings when projects are presented, but no one actually has a realistic idea of what the community’s wants or needs are. There is no preparation or thought process before going into the meeting and the only goal is to stop the development. The developers are met with hostility instead of options for what they need to do to create a better neighborhood.

As Jersey City continues to grow, the community boards need to know ahead of time what the community needs are and have some type of presentation and budget ready to hand over to the developers. A bunch of people shouting over each other at meetings gets everyone nowhere. There has to be preparation and professionalism to accomplish goals.

Imagine if the community invited real estate professionals into their committees. There are plenty of local developers, brokers, and architects to name a few, who could be great resources and help with proper planning and budgeting to make sure the requests are financially feasible. We can’t just expect the developer to build an entire school because that is what is needed, but perhaps suggest instead a 750-square-foot space (the size of a typical one bedroom) that is used for after-school programs, and on the weekend it could be a place where teenagers can take classes and have creative outlets instead of being on the streets.

In my opinion, this is what is most beneficial for the community. The Heights is in desperate need of parking, but that would mean losing an entire floor to parking, which is not ideal for the developer. Because of The Heights’ location on bedrock, it is extremely expensive to dig below grade. The cost of underground parking would be cost-prohibitive, but what if the city/state granted the developer the money to build the parking lot?

There is usually grant money that has to be allocated to projects that help communities. Why not grant it to a developer that can actually do something for our neighborhood and alleviate the parking situation that we all know is a big problem? After, the city can take back 25% of the profit of the parking lot and give back to the community, so these after- school and teenager programs actually have a budget to thrive on. This is just my humble opinion and an example of what could be done. I am sure there are many more ideas out there that we are all eager to hear.

Instead of everyone working against each other we can come together and build something special that we can all be proud of. Jersey City will continue to change. We cannot stop progress or growth, but we can come together and embrace it with positivity and preparation. I know change can be uncomfortable, but that is what makes this city so great. This is our city, we should all embrace the change and be part of it. Let’s create greatness for generations to come.

Warmly,
Diana Vasquez
Licensed Real Estate Broker-Salesperson NJ/NYC
Diana Vasquez Real Estate Group
EXP Realty

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23 COMMENTS

  1. The building should be at least 20-30 floors, befitting its location in a dense, transit oriented location with tremendous demand. Very sad that the city listens to the NIMBY crowd rather than the majority of the city’s residents, who want more and better housing, and stronger tax base.

  2. I couldn’t agree more regarding the communities coming more prepared to these meetings. I have been to plenty of meetings where locals will attend and from the start it’s hostile and completely unreasonable requests. For example, at one meeting a developer was proposing building a 40 unit building, 5 stories with no parking. Of course anytime you throw in “no parking” or “no affordable housing”, that is the fuel to set off the community fire. So people were just throwing out numbers…make the entire first floor parking, do 27 units not 40…which if thoroughly researched and presented properly can be a good argument. But in this example, unfortunately it wasn’t. So in that case it’s hard for developers to take the community seriously when they have no understanding of the economics. Asking a developer to reduce his units by 13 (using avg rent of 1,500), you are asking him to lose about $20k a month…so yeah they won’t be open to that unless you present it with some sort of facts or stats to show how that would be beneficial/profitable for the developer.

    Also, we can’t continue to ignore the elephant in the room. There are certain people in the community, whether community leaders or councilman, who are profiting from these developments. Developers will pay for their approvals and these groups will do anything possible to stop community from voicing their opinions using common tactics like doing a last minute meeting so people can’t plan and attend…or doing it at odd hours knowing most working professionals won’t be able to attend. That’s one of the major issues currently in Ward F that hopefully will be exposed over time. Hopefully Jersey Digs and other Real Estate Platforms will help put a spotlight on this issue because not only does it create hostility in the community but it also makes the community not trust the entire process.

  3. @dazedandconfused “Developers would pay for thier approvals” you have any proof to your huge allegations? Ward F has lots of work to be done. Unfortunately it’s been the ignored ward for far too long… Yes the meetings get out of hand, for no reason at all besides people’s fears which are baseless…

  4. Generally agree with the author here, there’s got to be a way to find a compromise and move the neighborhood forward. Current community meetings are pretty much a joke: the outright hostility to any change or to new residents is appalling. Small and well organized minority is currently imposing it’s will on all the residents without realizing that the neighborhood had changed. the votes (very close or even) for the last few developments clearly show that residents want progress and not conservation at all costs in order to keep the status quo which is not really great in my view: broken sidewalks, abandoned buildings, no decent retail/food /daycare options – all this forces you to get a car to drive somewhere. With smart development, these options will appear , reducing the need for cars and improving the quality of life for everyone.

  5. You go in for a massive project so when you modify the plans and downsize it (still to a project that is way too big) it doesn’t look so bad to the people you are presenting to. The owner is also a developer please don’t be fooled. Do your homework. He is not from Jersey City nor does he live nor does he care what residents think or what the implications are for an absurd and RIDICULOUS project in this location. Have you ever tried driving up or down New York Avenue trying to get to or from work in the morning and evenings. The zoning has it right…R1…1 and 2 family homes.

  6. Progress is good for everyone. But what about affordability. The gentrification of JC is the real issue here, people who lived in JC all of their lives now cant afford to move into any of the new luxury highrise.

  7. More profiteering? Yes. Under-informed, hostile locals? Yes. This is Jersey City in 2019.
    “So even if it is zoned as R1 (two-family homes), we can all agree this would be a waste of space,” writes the author. According to whom? Just because it’s physically possible to build 18, or 10 stories, doesn’t mean you should do it. The rationale that building “up” is what this community “needs” is ludicrous. Building to scale makes a lot of sense (to maintain character, to not overtax resources, to spare us more traffic congestion) but developers have a different point of view, obviously. Dollars per square inch. I don’t begrudge them their priorities but communities need to safeguard their interests, even if they annoy the hell out of you while they do it. How many 1- and 2-family homes can you build on this site, and how much profit could a developer realize from these homes (which would sell for seven figures, easily)?

    The bottom line is that a city is more than the sum of its new developments. There is a history, a heritage, a culture that lives and breathes here. And it goes way beyond “cool” restaurants and tall buildings. The soul of a city is important, too.

  8. Totally agree traffic is bad in rush hour, but it’s bad in any large city. Also, for some reason the assumption is that everyone who moves in is going to drive down that hill – which is just not true. A lot of people who move in work in the City and use Light rail etc – speaking from experience talking to many fellow new residents with only a few driving to work. Drive the concessions out of developer, build bike lanes, make him commit money to the Park – the plans to revamp it are stale for years etc. Zoning was developed not reflecting the modern realities – there’s a general demographic shift of ppl wanting to live in full service buildings everywhere (millennials) and not using the car. It’s happening everywhere.
    Need to move forward.

  9. @Val one of the “community leaders” who is actively still working with developers was busted for corruption back for taking kickbacks…I won’t name names but here’s a snippet from the article back in 2014…

    “She was pulled into the long-running FBI sting after pocketing a portion of the $15,000 in cash a federal informant gave to her in exchange for her promised vote on a bogus real estate project.”

  10. @Val one of the “community leaders” who is actively still working with developers was busted for corruption back for taking kickbacks…I won’t name names but here’s a snippet from the article back in 2014…

    “She was pulled into the long-running FBI sting after pocketing a portion of the $15,000 in cash a federal informant gave to her in exchange for her promised vote on a bogus real estate project.”

  11. “The soul of a city is important”- Yes, because two story dumpy ass Bayonne shit boxes are so charming and aesthetically splendid.

    “There is history, heritage, and culture that lives and breathes here” You’re joking, right?

  12. This letter is one of the most rational and reasonable assessments of development in Jersey City I have seen, presenting a path forward for all participants in the process.

  13. Can’t argue with most of the article except the statement that those 200 residents that appeared at the developer’s snap meeting have no ideas about what they want in the neighborhood. The leaders of the various community groups have organised since then and have clear ideas what they want at that location. This story has yet to be told but will be apparent when the developer presents his revised plan. We go from there.

  14. i don’t consider this to be overly complicated

    force the developer to leave the abandoned warehouse (or force him to adhere to R-1 zoning) due to some misconceived perception that it is somehow benefiting the Heights – BAD IDEA

    build an 18 story tower with no parking – BAD IDEA

    somewhere in the middle – GOOD IDEA

    perhaps a slightly curtailed version of the most recent rendering seems like a decent proposal. add a commercial element to the building and it is A NO BRAINER

  15. This site seems to have a lot of potential. I wonder if Jersey City could try to speak to Amazon to get HQ2 here to replace the previous location in Queens?

  16. Crawdad, where do you live that you think a building at least 20 floors tall would benefit this dense, transit-based community? Certainly you do not need live on the eastern side of the Heights.

    Do you know that the 119 bus to the Port Authority departs from Bayonne amen is packed by the time it reaches the Jersey City Heights? Do you know the 87 bus to the Hoboken PATH is supposed to run every 15 minutes during rush hour but in reality, falls far shorten of that?

  17. Daniel Wu, again, where do you live?

    There is a Stop n Shop on Franklin & Central and Supremo, which has upped its game, on Palisade Avenue between Ferry & Ravine Road, both a 5 minute or less walk from 109 New York Avenue. If you do not like their selection, there is a wonderful Shop-Rite near the 9th Street LR in Hoboken and a Trader Joe’s at the foot of the Viaduct. There is also an organic supermarket called Basic on Washington near 2nd in Hoboken. I find ALL these options accessible and I am a sixty something who bikes, walks or uses public transportation to get everywhere.

    Let us not forget the Farmer’s Market that runs from May through November at Riverview Park.

    As far as dining out goes, a very nice Italian restaurant has existed on Cambridge between Hutton & Franklin for years – Renato’s. It has parking.

    A more recent addition, farm to table Northern Italian restaurant called Corto is doing very well on Palisade between Bowers & South. The Hutton on Hutton near Kennedy bills itself as a bar. and grill but is so much more. A lot of people seem to like Central Bistro on Central & Thorne. The Franklin, which sounds promising, is opening on Franklin and NY Avenue.

    There are a dozen nice cafes – one, Cafe Griot, topped Yelp’s list in NJ.
    An organic ice cream shop has opened on Palisade between Hutton & Franklin.

    There are day care centers everywhere and some have been around for decades. Surely there are good ones in then mkx.

    As someone who walks and bikes everywhere on both sides of the Blvd in the Heights, I don’t see many broken sidewalks. There are vacant buildings on New York and Palisade Avenue but their numbers are dwindling as developers & investors gut and renovate them.

    Retail options could be better. Central Avenue has not regained the glory of my youth. However, Target is just down the hill, as is Newport Mall. There are smaller malls, such as Columbia Park in North Bergen on 32nd off the Boulevard. Although I have covered food, there is an ALDI near that Mall as well. There are two Walmart’s a short drive or a bus ride away.

    If big boxes are not your preference, there is Washington Street in Hoboken, a short drive, bus or bike ride away. You can’t even walk it, if ambitious.

  18. Since traffic circulation is obviously the biggest issue my plan would be far more radical. It would require the total rebuild of the Palisade Ave corridor. Similar to what Baron Haussmann did in Paris in the 19th century, and later Robert Moses in NYC, I would completely demolish all of the buildings from Palisade to Ogden, north to south. I would keep Riverview Park extending its length and add more interesting landscape features. Right now it’s nothing but a flat plot with a few dozen trees and nondescript pavilion.

    I would widen Palisade Ave to accommodate car traffic and add either a light rail or an elevated monorail. If the area is indeed bedrock it would far less expensive to build above ground. For habitation in the demolished zone I would rebuild with high rise towers leaving plenty of space between buildings air, light, and more open green spaces. The buildings themselves would be unique, distinctive upgrades with all the modern amenities.
    The southern pine from the demolished buildings could be used for flooring, furniture, or even walls and
    ceilings.

    The new Palisade corridor would include cinemas, shopping, cultural centers, restaurants, recreational facilities green spaces, etc. In my view anything short of a radical transformation is just urban bandaid on top of urban bandaid.

  19. “I would completely demolish all of the buildings from Palisade to Ogden, north to south”

    I thought the Amazon HQ2 comment was ridiculous – but this might have topped it?

  20. @Stacey and Linda- No, I’m quite serious. It’s only ridiculous to people like yourselves who lack imagination and accept dysfunction and mediocrity as the status quo. To pretend like those two story buildings are anything special is complete nonsense. The areas around Van Vorst and Hamilton Parks are my idea of a something worth preserving. Ditto for Bed Stuy in Brooklyn on an even larger scale. Those shitboxes on Palisade Ave? The joke’s on you.

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